How do QR codes prevent counterfeit in drug packaging?

Last updated:   April 19, 2022

The supply chain's manufacturing scheme especially in pharmaceutical industries, is a multiplex sequence of value-adding services that originate from the manufacturer and terminates to the end-consumer.

The complexity is further compounded with various supply options that exist in the form of products, supplied by the original manufacturers down to the aftermarket product companies. 

With that being said, multiple touchpoints of possible counterfeit activities may occur.

One of the biggest concerns in counterfeiting problems today involves fake pharmaceutical products that are circulating globally, directly affecting people's health and sometimes can even cause death. 

Not only do these fake drugs impose serious health threats, but substandard medicinal products waste consumer income by having them pay for it, with little to no medical value.

Furthermore, it displaces sales from legitimate pharmaceutical companies.

Statista reports show that the global counterfeit drug market is worth around 200 billion dollars and holds accountable for the nine billion dollars economic loss worth of lost federal and state tax revenues in the United States.

The dangers of counterfeit pharmaceutical drugs to consumers 


Unregistered medicines can pose major health risks and safety threats to consumers who fall victim to low-quality fake products, unable to spot unauthorized drugs.

Moreover, these consumers aren't even aware of the risks that might cause them.

Bad quality and counterfeit pharmaceutical products can affect many individuals in various ways. 

The latest report from the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) highlights the imposing dangers of counterfeit medicines for patients which can include:

  • Toxicity from incorrect active ingredients
  • Failure to cure the existing health problem and prevent future disease
  • It might contain the wrong dose and potentially lethal impurities
  • Contributing to the progression of antimicrobial resistance and drug-resistant infections.
  • Increases cost for patients when seeking additional professional medical care.
  • And worse, death

These poor, quality products can cause significant adverse events and complications for the individual and the whole society due to drug resistance.

Effects of substandard and falsified medical products to pharmaceutical industries


The impact of counterfeit medicines on legitimate pharmaceutical industries come in various ways, and this includes but not limit to:

  • Loss of revenue 
  • Additional costs for protecting brands 
  • Loss of a company's integrity or reputation

Even one of the five largest pharmaceutical companies globally – Pfizer – mentioned counterfeiting in its 2019 annual financial press release report, although not in its general yearly report. 

The company's financial report includes a section involving counterfeit products, general information on the challenges it faces due to fake drugs and noting its efforts to address the situation. 

Rising cases of fake pharmaceuticals in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic 


Recent seizures of counterfeit medical supplies being marketed as protection against Covid-19 emphasize the need to urgently address the rapid growth of international trade in fake pharmaceuticals. 

The illegal transaction of these fake drugs is costing billions of euros a year and putting people's lives at risk, according to the OECD and the EU's Intellectual Property Office.

"The sale of counterfeit and defective pharmaceuticals is a despicable crime, and the discovery of fake medical supplies related to Covid-19 just as the world pulls together to fight this pandemic makes this global challenge all the more acute and urgent."

 "We hope the evidence we have gathered on the value, scope, and trends of this illicit trade will help lead to rapid solutions to combat this scourge."," said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría.

Interpol recently reported the rise in fake medical products related to the COVID-19 includes substandard hand sanitizers and counterfeit facemasks, and an unauthorized antiviral medication. 

The proliferation of fake items and drugs have been seized by the authorities under the Operation Pangea XII, with over 90 countries took part with the initiative against the substandard pharmaceutical products. 

Overall, authorities seized around 4.4 million units of illicit pharmaceuticals worldwide. Among them were:

  • erectile dysfunction pills
  • anti-cancer medication
  • hypnotic and sedative agents
  • anabolic steroids
  • analgesics/painkillers
  • nervous system agents
  • dermatological agents
  • vitamins.

More than 37,000 unauthorized and counterfeit medical devices were also seized, the vast majority of which were surgical masks and self-testing kits (HIV and glucose),but also various surgical instruments.

What are QR codes?

Before we discussed how QR codes are used in pharmaceutical companies, let's have a quick recapitulation of what these codes are. 

QR codes are 2D barcodes that often contain data for a locator, identifier, or tracker that points to a website or application and is generated using a QR code generator online. 

Moreover, it also has the capacity  to transfer a hundred times more data than the traditional barcode — simply because it can store and display information  or data both vertically and horizontally.

A QR code uses four standardized encoding modes, which include numeric, alphanumeric, byte/binary, and kanji) to store data efficiently;(extensions may also be used.)

Related: What is a QR code and how does it work? The Beginner's Ultimate Guide!

Solution: Introducing QR codes on pharmaceutical industry printed on product packaging to provide authenticity 


The global trading system opens up many possibilities for the infiltration of counterfeit products into the regular supply chain. That being said, can result in squandered health resources.    

However, the QR code technology has been taking part in combatting these counterfeit items to address this problem. 

Not only known for protecting the names of many international luxury brands from fake items, but these digital codes are also making a significant revolutionary impact in identifying authentic medicinal products in the pharmaceutical industry. 

With that being said, many countries have been starting to implement QR codes on their product packaging to protect their brand's name while allowing consumers to verify the authenticity of pharmaceutical products at the point of their purchase. 

Here's a simple step-by-step process on how it works

  1. The unique QR code is inside the lid of the packaging.
  2. When the user scans he will be directed to a page to check if the product is original and safe.
  3. The user scans a unique URL that contains a token that allows us to check if the product is real.

This is the safest way to avoid against counterfeit as  this can't be copied. 

How does the QR code on pharmaceutical packaging works to combat counterfeiting?


The QR codes on medicinal packaging will be scanned with the help of smartphone devices to access its verification data online.

These codes will act as an identifier that will enable specifying the name of the product, pharmaceutical form, strength, size, type of packaging, country of origin and serial numbers, date of manufactured and expiration date, manufacturer's information, etc.

The QR codes are then generated in bulk QR, with each unique code containing information for each product. Prior to distribution, these codes are entered into the electronic database or an in-house system. 

To check for authenticity, the smartphone device's QR code is scanned in a photo mode or QR reader apps to access the data online. 

The user will then be redirected to view the information in its official database or to the central web system where they  check if medicine is of the original owner. Furthermore, they can compare the information online to its product packaging and label information.

Moreover, the database system does not allow two identical serial numbers, so the packaging of the medicine cannot have a duplicate.  

Related: How to address counterfeit goods with bulk QR code in product authentication

Creating QR codes for pharmaceuticals in bulk 


Generating thousands of unique QR codes for pharmaceutical packaging is possible using a bulk QR code.  This way, you don't have to generate QR codes manually for thousands of products. 

Creating QR codes for pharmaceuticals through an API QR code


The custom QR code API offers a professional solution for brands that need to have custom QR code templates with the data tracking system, dynamic QR codes, or QR codes in bulk and have QR codes integrated into their CRM, ERP or an in-house system.

Suppose you need to integrate your pharmaceutical system with a QR Code generation system; in that case, you can use an Application Programming Interface (API) tool in QRTiger and generate your codes programmatically with your own information management system.   

How to scan the QR code on pharmaceutical packaging 

To check if your smartphone device can scan QR codes natively, here are the steps you should do:

  • Open your camera app
  • Point it towards the QR code for 2-3 seconds
  • Click on the notification that appears to view content

If nothing happens, go to the camera settings and check if there's an option for QR code scanning.

 If you don't see a QR code option, your android smartphone does not support the QR code scanner. Therefore, you must use third-party apps to scan or read QR codes with ease.

The advantages of QR codes in pharmaceutical packaging

The QR code is editable to another content


Even after printing your bulk QR codes on pharmaceutical product packaging and labels, they are editable in content in case you might have encrypted the wrong data and correct it. 

That being said, you don't need to reproduce and print thousands of QR codes again, making them economical to use. 

Once you update your QR code, it will automatically reflect and update its file to the exact QR you have printed on your packaging.

Related: How to Edit a QR Code in 9 Quick Steps?

QR codes are trackable


API QR code and Bulk QR codes are dynamic QR code that enables users to track their product's QR code scans. 

This also enables them to see and analyze if their customers successfully utilized their QR code campaign against counterfeit products by scanning the QR code. 

Vital QR code metrics or statistics revealed when you track your QR codes 

Real-time data of your QR code scans 

You can see from the time chart the number of scans you get. You can filter the data by days, weeks, months, or years! 

Device use by your scanners 

Are your scanners iPhone or Android users? 

Map chart  for a wider QR code scans view

The map chart in the QR code generator gives you a comprehensive and better view from anywhere in the world where people have scanned your QR Code! And under the map chart, you can see the summary of your QR code scans’ overall statistics. 

Related: How to set-up QR Code Tracking: A step-by-step guide


Pharmaceutical companies do not need to allocate their funds to re-printing QR codes again if the information needs to be corrected or updated, making them environmentally-friendly and economical.

QR codes are scannable in print and online display


QR codes on pharmaceutical products are not only scannable in print but also online. With that being said, the rampant existence of fake products spreading online can also be combat using these codes. 

Countries that are using QR codes to battle fake medicines 


With more than 80% of counterfeit pharmaceutical products being sold in Ukraine, particularly in the online market that operates without the permit, 

the disturbing percentage of fake pharmaceuticals infiltrating the online market of Ukraine, the Ukrainian government took action to address the problem by implementing the QR code technology last year and to prevent the further growing number of counterfeit items. 



India is one of the countries that is taking the battle of counterfeit drugs seriously. As a matter of fact, this country is pushing for the use of QR codes on medicines and drug packs.

Just last year, on February 22, a report came out that the Indian government is set to use QR codes on all of their pharmaceutical packaging ordered under the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) to push for fair pricing and combat fake product imitation circulating around.


The government of Russia has also been made aware of the effective use of QR codes on drug packaging. In January of 2017, they started marking pharmaceuticals with QR codes that also aimed to fight counterfeit and smuggled drug items that may endanger people's health.

Also, QR codes on medicines also provide consumers with high quality and legitimate products in all aspects.


One of the pharmacies in Florida, Hobbs Pharmacy, uses QR codes so patients can quickly and conveniently access thousands of medication-specific usage videos and potential side-effect information.

A step-by-step instruction through a video QR code is also being used to demonstrate medication regimes correctly.

QR codes in pharmaceutical industry: Innovation and securing the future of pharmaceutical production using QR code technology

Counterfeit medicines cause economic damage for the sector and pose a serious threat to public health, since these fake medicines are often not properly formulated and may contain dangerous ingredients.

While there are still thousands or even millions of fake products in the market, using QR codes in pharmaceutical industry when attached to label  packaging is a technological advancement that can be used to secure pharmaceutical industries' future and impose safety on their patients. 

QR codes have seen a significant growth in popularity and have been making waves in the global business and marketing scheme, providing a rapid response to counterfeit products at every point of sale. 

With QR codes present on these drug labels and packaging, the buyer can check and verify the medicinal product's authenticity that they are planning to purchase using only their mobile devices. 

If you have more questions, you can also contact us today for more information!

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